Effective leadership doesn’t have to be soft—it has to be effective.
“A really effective leader can get results and build the capability of individuals and build effective teams so that results are achieved beyond the moment. But they have to get results or they don’t stay leaders.” –Jim Fisher, The Thoughtful Leader
Emphasis on that last phrase: “But they have to get results, or they don’t stay leaders.”
I love that Fisher singles this out in such blunt terms. I agree. You need to produce if you want the opportunity to engage in all those lofty-sounding and genuinely important activities so widely popularized in the leadership literature.
The push for results can invite the wrong behaviors to the leadership party. Therein lies the rub. The demand for results provides the raw energy source for a great number of really miserable behaviors and lamentable approaches.
Earlier in my career, I was a results-focused heat-seeking missile, and my management approach reflected the unrelenting drive to achieve. People were either with me on this runaway train of results or were thrown off while it was in motion.
And the results were good.
For the moment.
This style wasn’t sustainable, much less commendable. There was little of what Fisher represents in his first sentence above. It was all focused on the “get results” portion.
My Experience as a Results Machine
As I gained experience and more than a few lumps based on my approach, I began to develop an appreciation for the ability of the leader to create an environment where people willingly and enthusiastically did their best, without me as tyrannical manager in the foreground.
The need for results never disappeared. However, something odd happened. The numbers and outputs became a means of keeping score round-to-round in a bigger and longer game. Other priorities emerged. Results were outcomes.
I knew I was on track when my manager at the time offered the comment at my annual performance review: “This was a great year for you. You showed people that you are more than a machine.”
(Honestly, I wasn’t certain whether it was an insult or a back-handed compliment. A bit of both, I think.)
Oddly, or ironically, as I tempered and reformed my approach to guiding and motivating and supporting, the results not only improved, they sustained. Along the way, careers were born, made, and reshaped. New businesses were born and new markets conquered.
I discovered the real work of leadership and the real value I could create from leading. I became coach and sponsor, instead of dictator. The results were simply the admission ticket to more opportunities to lead and to invest in growing and developing great professionals and great teams.
Make the Right Choices
Every person in a role responsible for the output of others faces a never-ending series of choices on the “How to”portion of their job.
My best rear-view mirror counsel is to do everything possible to skip the machine-like manager as terminator robot phase.
It’s tempting. It can work in the short-term. But the costs are too high for you, your team, and your firm.
There’s a better way.
Create a Foundation for Leadership
Develop a personal philosophy of leadership from day one. Ken Blanchard (et al.) reference this as your Leadership Point-of-View (LPOV).
My variation focuses on creating your Leaders Charter. To get there, ask and answer these very personal questions:
- Why do you want to lead?
- What do you hope to accomplish in this role?
- Think of the leaders you admire in your life (or history). What is it that you admire about them?
- If you were to incorporate the answers to the above into your personal leadership philosophy, what would it sound like?
- How are you going to bring your charter or philosophy to life?
And then, there’s my favorite question: what do the people around you need from you to do their best work?
Those who work with me in my programs and workshops come to know it as Angela’s Question.
Angela was a junior project manager who taught me more about leading with her approach to one particularly difficult project than I had learned in my decade of managing and being responsible for others. (Slow learner here.)
Her question: At the end of this project, when we are successful, what will you say that I did?
Come up with your variation. Some of my clients use: At the end of our time working together, how will you say that I helped you grow?
Make the question fit your situation. Just don’t fail to ask it.
Effective Leadership Doesn’t Have to Be Soft
More than a few individuals in my programs have worried over whether this seeming shift away from a demanding manager to a kinder, gentler approach to leading and driving results is too soft and squishy.
I’ve never been accused of being soft and squishy. You don’t have to fit this label either.
On the contrary, I set expectations high. They’re almost always exceeded. When results fall short, I first look at my behaviors. I’m harder on myself than any boss.
If the issue is ultimately someone who fails to give 100-percent of their best, I take action. I am relentless in my coaching. People who don’t want to be coached leave. The rest thrive.
We celebrate great results. For a moment. And then we move on to the real work in front of us. Results are just the score for a moment in time. The real is about building great teams, great careers, and growing and learning together.
Results count. How you get there counts more.
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